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Pearl Jam Road Trip Part 11: The End - by Kevin Montavon

(Click here for previous Pearl Jam Road Trip)

The crowing Rooster woke me in North Central Nebraska. The Rooster said it was time to head home.

After 16 days on the road, our adventures were winding down. We had a leisurely day planned for our last full day away from home, planning to see a few historical sites and take our time heading East. The primary destination for this day was Homestead National Monument of America. 

Homestead National Monument is located near the town of Beatrice (pronunced Be-AT-ris), Nebraska, about an hour south of Lincoln. It memorializes the Homestead Act, enacted by the United States Government to encourage settlement in the West. Free land was given away with the stipulation that the land would be "homesteaded"...worked, developed, and farmed. The site exists as a memorial and a tribute to those hardscrabble adventurers and dreamers who paved the way to the West for the rest of us.

We began the day in Lincoln with lunch and beers at Nebraska's oldest brew pub. The University District was relatively quiet and relaxed for a Saturday. We were one week early for the college football season,  but as residents of a Big Ten college town ourselves, we knew the place would be hopping in a week's time. After our repast we drove South to Homestead and spent the afternoon walking through the meadows and pathways, and checking out the preserved dwellings there. We then drove on to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where we met an old friend of mine for dinner and more beers (you might have noticed through the course of this series that we enjoy a good brewski). Our intention then was to drive through the night, arriving home in Ohio in the early morning. 

But we woke up at a rest area on I-80 in eastern Iowa at around the time we had planned to be home. I had dozed off immediately after hitting the road, and Heather had grown drowzy as well so she had pulled in for a few Z's and slept through the night. We were under no pressure to be home at that time, but now we had a much lengthier stretch still to travel. 


Making the most of our now 8-hour delay, we pulled off the highway again in West Branch, Iowa to visit the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, which preserves the birthplace, childhood neighborhood, and resting place of The 31st President of The United States, as well as being the location of his Presidential Library and Museum. We were about an hour early for the opening of the visitor center, so we strolled around the quiet streets and drove to the Presidential gravesite. We got back to the center just as they were unlocking the doors and stamped our last cancellations for the trip.


8 hours later we were back home in Ohio. 7,219 miles, $565.55 in gasoline costs, 12 National Park sites visited, 9 hours of Rock And Roll and 97 songs later, we were finally home and sleeping in our own bed. Another adventure in the books, and a liftetime of memories made. And of course, I am already making plans for The Great American Roadtrip 2019.


Always remember one thing. The journey IS the destination.

Kevin Montavon has visited National Parks in the 48 lower states and attended over 1,500 concerts before beginning this road trip. He also sings in the band Plow Horse. 

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Take a Knee with Scott Lucas and Local H - by Colin Gawel

Shame on me. I’m missing the Local H show tonight in Columbus.

For the record, if I was ever playing the I Heart Music Festival in Las Vegas, and for some reason they played the National Anthem before the show started.. I would take a knee in a peaceful protest of Clear Channel and hold up a boom box and blast some Local H.

The following song was used as Watershed pre-show music for hundreds of shows from 2003-2008.

For Those About to Rock I Salute Scott Lucas and Local H. .

As long as we are hating on The Man









Pearl Jam Road Trip: Part Ten - by Kevin Montavon


Click here for previous Pearl Jam Road Trip .

"They can fly rings around the Moon, but we are light years ahead of them on the highway!" - Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)


After our previous day at Little Bighorn, we had driven back through Sheridan, Wyoming in search of camping (keen readers take note...we had come full circle), but darkness falls quick in the mountains after sunset, and we had once again let time get away from us. So we drove back into town where we had phone service, and I pulled up my Hotels-dot-com app to look for a vacancy. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had a free night's stay coming. So we booked a room near Gillette, one hour away, and close to the next day's destination, Devils Tower National Monument. 


Devils Tower was the first United States National Monument, established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. It sits in the Black Hills region of eastern Wyoming, near the border with South Dakota. Any trip to the Badlands or Mount Rushmore area should include some time at the Bear's Lodge (as it is known to Native American tribes in the region). Made even more famous by the Steven Spielberg film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (still screened nightly at the Devils Tower KOA campground), the tourism industry here has maintained a steady uptick for the last 40 years. We had visited DTNM twice before, and both times we had taken the shorter paved walkway that circles the base of the monolith, about a mile and a half in distance and a relatively easy walk. On this our third visit, our third encounter so to speak, we decided to take the three-mile Red Beds Trail, which roughly follows the perimeter of the park site through varied terrain, descending to a canyon of red bedrock (hence the trail name) before the steady ascent back to the tower. It was fairly strenuous hike on a 90 degree day (we ran through all the water in our camelbacks as well as the extra two bottles we carried), but we were rewarded for our efforts with stunning views of the Belle Fourche River flowing through the valley below us and the tower's ever changing profile above.


After our hike we drove a scenic backroad into South Dakota. We stopped at an abandoned coal mine near the state line for some photos, and attempted to visit the Old West town of Deadwood, but there is only one road in and out of town and there was a parade going on which was forcing three-hour delays. So we turned around, returned to Interstate 90, and drove on to Hill City, SD where we were lucky enough to snag the very last room at the Super 8 Motel there. After checking in and enjoying a soak in the hot tub, we drove the 12 miles to Mount Rushmore National Monument. Travel tip: go to Mount Rushmore at night. It's open until 11:00 PM, and you can even get your NPS passport stamp in the visitor center until 10:00 PM. There wasn't anyone collecting the $11 parking fee (which is good for the calendar year so it's actually a good deal), so we skated on that. And best of all, we practically had the place to ourselves. There were just a few other people there, and they were being quiet and respectful. My previous visits to Mount Rushmore were always during the day, but seeing it lit up at night was truly awe-inspiring.


The next day we visited nearby Jewel Cave National Monument and Wind Cave National Park for stamp cancellations. We were over an hour early for the next tour of Jewel Cave, which is the longest cave system in the United States and one of the longest on Earth. Unfortunately for us, it is a two-hour walk through and we didn't have three hours to spare. A cave tour would have to wait for a future visit. At Wind Cave there weren't any tours operating because the elevator was on the fritz. 


We looked at our trusty Rand McNally Road Atlas and saw there was a dirt road which led from the Wind Cave area into Badlands National Park, our next destination. As big fans of the backroads, this was a no-brainer of a route. The initial part of the road was through ranching and farming areas, but about thirty miles into the drive we came to the town of Buffalo Gap. It was a decent size little village with not one, but two bars. One was called The Water Hole, and it was in a large log cabin style trading post building. There was a dry-erase sandwich board in front that advertised $1.50 hot dogs. A large banner informed us of "Live Music Every Friday Night", and another welcomed bikers (the world famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally had just ended the previous weekend). The other drinking establishment in the tiny hamlet was in a steel building literally on the edge of town, with a hand-written sign in the window that said "Last Chance Saloon". Thinking a couple hot dogs and a beer sounded good, we returned to The Water Hole. There were a few other cars in the small parking lot, and the place looked open, so we stepped inside.


The scene that greeted us was like a verse from the Charlie Daniels Band song "Uneasy Rider". Most of the lights in the place were turned off, and there was no one working behind the bar. At a table sat three men and two women, all with open beers in front of them. One man resembled Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty, the other two looked like Larry The Cable Guy's more fit brothers. Dead silence filled the air as they just stared at us.


"Um," I spoke up, "That hot dog special looked pretty good."


Uncle Si said, "Well, I don't have any made up, but if you want to wait I can see if I can fix you one." He stood up, looked through a doorway behind him that was blocked by stacked chairs and boxes and said "No, can't get to 'em". Then he sat back down. More silence and more stares...


After a few seconds that seemed like minutes I managed to spit out some more words. "Well, looked like a cool place you have here so we thought we would stop in and check it out. Have a good day."


We took a quick look around at the stage with amps, drums, and guitars already set up (this could have been the band hanging out before their Friday night gig I reasoned), and then beat a path back to the door and moseyed on out of Buffalo Gap. I had flashes of horror movies that started like this.


After that strange interaction, the remainder of the drive East was gorgeous as we approached the strange hoodoos and bluffs of The Badlands. We were visiting The Stronghold Unit, which is a largely undeveloped area of the park that sits on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. We stopped and got our stamp at the White River Visitor Center, then drove a seven-mile gravel road to the top of Sheep Mountain Table, a large plateau that dominates that part of the park. We were greeted with stunning panoramic views of the surrounding wilderness.


It was getting late into the day and we still were trying to at least make it back to the Central Time Zone before we bedded down (saving ourselves an hour of clock time the next day), so we continued South through Pine Ridge before stopping at the Wounded Knee Massacre site, where shortly following the Battle of Little Bighorn, Sioux chief Bigfoot and 200 others...mostly women and children, were gunned down by the U.S. 7th Cavalry and buried in a mass grave. While I was reading the historical marker, a Sioux Indian man pulled up in his pickup truck.


"Is it oldies day out?" he said with a grin. 


The guy looked older than me, so I wasn't exactly sure about his angle, but I knew what he was stopping for...


"You guys like arts and crafts?" He looked at Heather and added, "Are you Native? You look like an Indian." Heather, being quick on her toes replied "I don't know." She wasn't lying. She is adopted and honestly doesn't know her exact heritage.


After a little more chit chat, he pulled out his tub of wares. All of the necklaces he was selling were more than I had cash on hand to buy, but he had a couple of small dragonflies woven from Prairie Sweetgrass that he only wanted $5 for both of them. He gave us his pitch, "These ward off negativity. Put them on a string and wear them around your neck". They were neat little souvenirs, so I bought them from him and we drove on into Nebraska to find a campground for the night.


With one day left in our trip, we were leaving the splendor of the Rocky Mountain region behind us...until next year

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Pearl Jam Road Trip: Part Nine - by Kevin Montavon

(Click here for previous Pearl Jam Road Trip)

Over 90 songs and nearly nine hours of Rock And Roll later, we had reached the end of our show run for this tour. But the journey was not over yet. We still had several National Park sites to see, and 4 days in which to see them. So there was a small sense of melancholy at play when we hit the road Tuesday morning, but also a keen sense of wonder in what surprises were still ahead of us.

Due to the news we had received the day before concerning the wildfires in Glacier National Park, we had originally considered changing our plans entirely, and perhaps going back to Yellowstone, or just moving eastward a day early and allow ourselves more time for planned stops back in Wyoming and South Dakota. But even with the fires burning, and the closure of over half the Going To The Sun Road, many parts of the park were still open. We had camped at Glacier one time before, years ago, but we had still not seen a large portion of the southern part of the park, so we decided to go ahead and drive north from Missoula anyway. The smoke hanging in the air grew thicker the further north we went, and the mountains, though visible, looked as if they were shrouded in fog, the kind you would see in The Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. But that Appalachian “smoke” is fog, and this mountain “fog” was smoke. Once we arrived at the park, we drove the eastern portion of the GTTS Road as far as we were allowed to drive it, which was all the way to Logan's Pass, normally one of the congested areas of the park, now virtually empty. Our original itinerary had us taking a hike from one of the trailheads here, but there wasn't much of a view of the surrounding landscapes with all of the smoke in the air, so we drove back to the Many Glacier area, where we had camped in 2005. We cooked some dinner on our camp stove and enjoyed the sunset as much as we could see it. 

We decided to get further east before bedding down for the night, so we arranged our things in the car so Heather could sleep in the back seat while I drove (we really need to look into a van or a camper. Our rental was way too small for this trip, but...budget). We headed south through Blackfeet Nation and into the night. On that trip back in '05 we had driven this same route in the opposite direction, heading into Glacier, and we had visited the Museum Of The Plains Indian which is near the town of Cut Bank. The man working there asked where we were from and when I said Ohio, he replied “Ohio...you've got those mounds out there.” He was referring to the Hopewell Mounds and The Great Serpent Mounds, places that are considered sacred to many tribes, not just those from the Midwest. It made me realize that we all take for granted what is near to us. This man would possibly only see the great mounds once in his lifetime, if he ever made it there at all. And I may only see these mountains but a few times in my life. He can see them anytime he wants. And I can visit the mounds anytime I want. It was an interesting thing to reflect on as I drove. A few hours down the road, I found a state park and pulled into one of the campgrounds for a few hours of Z's myself.

We were not far from the Montana state capital of Helena, so we took a little bit of time there in the morning to catch up on emails and online messages. We had been virtually off the grid for the last week except when we were in major cities and larger towns. Our primary destination for the day was The Little Bighorn National Battlefield & Cemetery. 

LBNB is the site of what was once popularly known as “Custer's Last Stand”. As that name implies, it is the site of General George Custer's death. On June 25 and 26, 1876, his 7th Cavalry suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho warriors fighting to preserve the Native American way of life. These tribes led by Chiefs Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Gall won what was in the end a pyrrhic victory, routing and killing their invaders, but also fueling plans of vengeance from the US 7th Cavalry that would culminate in the Massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota a short time therafter. 

We sat down in back of the visitor center and listened to a talk from a Crow Indian Park Ranger that was both entertaining and informative. I am somewhat of a Native American History buff, and in general I believe I “know my stuff”, but this Ranger offered a nuanced look at this history-changing event, and provided a balanced look at both sides of the story, in particular by not making a villian out of Custer. On the contrary, this Native American man informed the dozens of us sitting there that Custer was one of the most decorated soldiers in the American Civil War, and had received commendations from his commanding officers that named him as personally responsible in a large part for the Union victory. He said many come there and say Custer “got what he deserved”, but he said Custer was just a man doing his job, in an impossible setting, to the best of his abilities, and he went to his death doing his duty as an American soldier. Also told was the heroism of the Indian warriors, “fighting for everything they had and everything they were ever going to have” as the Ranger stated on multiple occasions in his talk. Their story was told passionately by this man, descended from some of those very warriors. In the end he said “Folks, this is my last talk of the season, I'm giving you my all.” He seemed literally drained by his presentation when it was through.

After the sobering talk we drove the Battlefield tour route and hiked some of the paved and unpaved trails to various grave markers (the gravestones at Little Bighorn are set where the men fell in the battle, giving you a visual lesson on the carnage that happened there). We also took the short walk from the visitor center to Last Stand Hill, where Custer's marker is set, bearing a black shield on the front face to distinguish it from the other white marble stones of the men who fell defending him. Red granite stones mark the places where the Native warriors fell, honoring these men who died defending their homeland and way of life. Across the road from Last Stand Hill is the large Indian Memorial which further honors these men. It features a large plaza from which you can watch the Sun set in the distance behind a sculpture of charging warriors on horseback.

Little Bighorn is a place of ghosts and glory. It's a place of honor, and of sorrow. It's a place that exists so that we might never repeat the crimes of the past, and where valient men gave their lives to protect and defend the lives and livelihoods of all those they held dear. It's a place where heroes rest and those who remember them come to reflect. It's a uniquely American place that simultaneously celebrates the best and worst of our human nature. Be still...and listen to the lessons of the dead.

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Pearl Jam Road Trip: Part Eight - by Kevin Montavon

(Click here for Pearl Jam Part 7)

Mount Rainier is the largest active volcano on the west coast of the United States, and one of the largest mountains in North America. On clear days it dominates the eastern sky of Seattle and it has become a living symbol of the Pacific Northwest. MRNP is our fifth national park, established by President William McKinley in 1899, and it was the first national park created from a national forest.  We had visited the park once before, but it had been sixteen years since we were last there. So we made sure to include some time on the mountain in our itinerary for this trip.

Due to time constraints, we had to decide on one area of the park to focus on. We were approaching from the east, so we decided to head to Sunrise, which is the highest point on the mountain reachable by car. Mount Rainier makes its own weather, and a common saying in the Pacific Northwest is "I hope the mountain comes out today", which refers to the fact that the volcano can often be shrouded in clouds and fog. Unfortunately for us it had decided to hide itself away on this day. We reached Sunrise and while it initially seemed that the fog may burn away, it never happened. We wouldn't set eyes on the great fire mountain until the next morning, from fifty miles away, when we left our campground in the National Forest and were greeted by a panoramic view of both Rainier and its infamous southern neighbor Mount Saint Helens, which last erupted in 1981 (the effects of which are still visible in the area).

Not far into the morning drive we passed a large tent city, which called to mind the homeless camps back in Seattle. These tents, however, temporarily housed firefighters from all over the United States who had come to battle the epidemic of wildfires currently burning all over the West. I said a few prayers for these brave men and women, heroes all. The rest of the day's seven-hour drive was filled with gorgeous scenery that passed by our windshield at a steady clip. We passed through Yakima Canyon, The Columbia River Gorge, and the breathtaking Northern Idaho Range.

By early evening we had reached Missoula. We got checked in to our motel and took a drive through town to scope out the stadium area and assess potential parking spaces for the next day. It became immediately apparent that Pearl Jam fans had invaded this small college town. Once again we saw a tent city, this time it was the diehards camping out for the next morning's GA line. We drove back out to the Interstate and had dinner at a chain restaurant (gift card) and then back to the room to crash.

We awoke on show day to terrible news. Glacier National Park, where we had planned to spend the next few days, was on fire. The popular Going To The Sun Road (a high mountain road...you know I love those) was completely closed on the west side of the park. We knew our plans would be changing. We tried to take our minds off of the tragedy by heading to the brewery next door to the motel, but the lines for service were long, due to the number of fans in town. So instead we bought some beer at the Conoco station across the street and drove to the University District to tailgate before the show. 

The concert this evening was also doubling as a benefit fundraiser for Montana Senator John Tester (bassist Jeff Ament grew up in and still maintains a residence in the state, and is active in Democratic politics there). The band had arranged for a Rock-The-Vote rally to be held outside the stadium during the afternoon. We watched a few of the local bands, grabbed a few beers, and got in line for the 10 Club Pit. The end of the line stretched all the way around the stadium, so we were pleasantly surprised once we got inside to still get a spot on the rail in front of Mike McCready's side of the stage. We made friends with our new neighbors and settled in to await showtime. 

The band hit the stage a little before 8:30 PM, with Vedder sporting a snappy Evel Knievel style leather jacket in tribute to the legendery Montana daredevil. This concert was a bit more subdued than most Pearl Jam shows, due to the political nature of the event, but they still delivered a lengthy set featuring some rare tracks that hadn't been played in a long while ("Songs for the serious collector" as Eddie would say). They stressed the importance of the upcoming election, and Vedder said he hoped that Montana could set the record for youth voting. I wasn't interested in the politics...I often disagree with the band's stances and I can't vote in Montana anyway. I was just there for the tunes. There was also a touching moment where Jeff's parents came onstage to congratulate him. In the end, it was another transcendent show, and in a gorgeous setting to boot. And that's all it needed to be. 

As the night wound down I wished that we could see more shows on this tour, but our concert chips had all been cashed in. At least we had the rest of the week ahead to visit more stunning locales. That should ease the post-show withdrawals a bit.

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Pearl Jam Road Trip: Part Seven - by Kevin Montavon

(Click here for previous Pearl Jam Road Trip)

"I was just, uh...nowhere near your neighborhood."  - Steve Dunne (character in the film Singles)

One nice thing about the recent Pearl Jam tours is that they always take a day off between a two-night stand at the same venue. So for die-hard traveling fans who want to see both shows, we are forced to spend a whole day off in a new and exciting locale. I have mentioned before that we had passed through Seattle on two previous occasions, but we had not spent any significant time there. So for our bonus day we planned our very own "Grunge Tour" where we would visit some of the early haunts of the Seattle music scene. 

We slept in after the previous night's festivities, and then began our day in Jet City by meeting a friend and fellow road-dog for lunch at Salumi, a New York style sandwich shop in downtown Seattle. Heather and I split a super-tasty roast pork sandwich, plenty for both of us and fuel for the long day ahead. 

We then headed to Easy Street Records in West Seattle for photos at their iconic "Mother Love Bone" wall, which has been featured in movies and as album cover art. The store itself is a record-lover's dream, with an impressive selection of titles at great prices. There is also a cafe and a bar on site. I found lots of albums that I would have otherwise purchased, but we still had a week and a half of the road ahead and I didn't want to try to protect vinyl in the car the whole time, so in the end I just window-shopped...and had a few  beers. 

From there we drove into the Capitol Hill neighborhood for a geek pilgrimage to the apartment building featured in the Cameron Crowe film "Singles," a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of the city's Grunge Scene heyday. We snapped a few photos and then gave our friend a ride back to where he was staying and continued on our own. We drove to Lakeview Cemetery next to visit the gravesites of Bruce and Brandon Lee. Bruce obviously being a huge hero to their community, there were car and vans full of Asian tourists coming and going while we were there. One mother was explaining to her children who he was, and I wish I had been able to record what she was saying. I shared a moment with them and said he was poetry in motion, and she agreed.

We then drove through the suburb of Bellevue, home of the band Queensryche, and ended our day at Golden Gardens Park on the shore of Puget Sound, hanging on the beach with all the locals and watching the sun set over The Olympic Mountains on the opposite shore.

The next day we slept in and started the day with a swim in the motel pool and a soak in the hot tub. We drove into the city and found a parking spot in a much nicer area of town, only having to feed the meter for two hours until it was free. We were parked equidistant from the stadium in one direction, and the historic Pike Street Public Market, a Seattle institution in the other. We headed towards the market, but it was an uphill walk the entire way. We eventually grew tired, conveniently right in front of The Seattle Beer Company, so we stopped in to refresh ourselves with a sample of local suds. After that we were fueled for the rest of the trip up the hill, and we made a quick tour of the market district before starting the two-mile hike to the stadium. We ended up catching a ride in a bicycle-powered rickshaw for the second mile, and it was a fun breezy cruise directly to the stadium entrance. We had reserved seats for this show, so we were able to stroll around the ballpark for awhile before showtime.

I didn't know how they were going to top Wednesday's epic show, but I should have known for a Friday night hometown show that Pearl Jam would pull out all the stops. And that they did. From the 36-song setlist, to the moving Tom Petty tribute at the start of Encore One, to the guests that sat in (Mark Arm and Steve Turner of Mudhoney, and Kim Thayil of Soundgarden), this show may well have been the greatest Pearl Jam show I have seen yet. It was a fine way to cap off our Triduum in the Grunge Capital of the world.

A quick word about that label, "Grunge." I always found it odd that so many disparate sounding bands were lumped into one genre. Pearl Jam does not sound like Nirvana, who do not sound like Alice In Chains, who sound nothing like Soundgarden. After spending three days in Seattle I came to realize that the label is pretty much a descriptor of the city, not the sound. It's a beautiful cosmopolitan place in many ways, and it has its issues like homelessness and poverty, but there is certainly a noticable "crust" to the city. It's a well lived-in place that is more than appropriately described with the G-word. And you know, that's not a bad thing..

Kevin Montavon has visited National Parks in the 48 lower states and attended over 1,500 concerts before beginning this road trip. He also sings in the band Plow Horse.

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